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College of Engineering and Computer Science receives national award for diversity efforts

Sac State's College of Engineering and Computer Science (ECS) was recently honored with a recognition award for its efforts and plans to work toward a more diverse faculty, staff and student body. Pictured, left to right: ECS DEI committee members Sarvenaz Sobhan, Atefeh Mohammadpour, Tongren Zhu and Michael Nguyen, bottom right, associate vice president of Inclusive Excellence and executive director of the Office for Cultural Transformation. (Sacramento State/Analy Carrillo)

Sacramento State’s College of Engineering and Computer Science (ECS) recently achieved a major diversity milestone.

The college received a Bronze award from the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) Diversity Recognition Program (DRP).

The designation from the national, Washington D.C.-based organization recognizes engineering colleges making “significant, measurable progress in increasing the diversity, inclusion and degree attainment outcomes of their programs.”

To qualify for the recognition, a committee submitted a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) action plan, a narrative explaining the college’s promise to do this work, and a pledge signed by the college dean.

“It is a validation of our ongoing commitment to promoting diversity and inclusion within our academic community,” said Atefeh Mohammadpour, professor of Construction Management and the committee’s chair.

The committee collaborated with Michael Nguyen, associate vice president of Inclusive Excellence and executive director of the Office for Cultural Transformation, and Jennifer Wagelie, interim director of Cultural Initiatives and Employee Resource Groups, to help focus its efforts and ensure the action plan was in line with Sac State’s goals.

“We were able to add that additional lens of supporting the college and not only getting this certification but setting (the college) up to really do things beyond it,” Nguyen said.

Wagelie said the plan allows the college to have tangible goals and a way to track progress more realistically.

“It’s an important punctuation mark for the college to be able to say that they have this recognition and that they are going forward to really think through what all of it means,” she said.

Rounding out the committee are Sarvenaz Sobhan, professor of Mechanical Engineering; Danny Zavala, graduation and retention coordinator; Tongren Zhu, professor of Civil Engineering; and Anna Baynes, professor of Computer Science.

“This is an important key recognition that aligns with individual department and college priorities as well as our institution. But where we feel it’s important is now it’s a documented commitment to actually being able to deliver.” -- Michael Nguyen, Inclusive Excellence

The college’s efforts already include community welcome events, outreach to local K-12 schools and more. As the college works to implement the DEI plan, the committee, which began as a diversity taskforce about two years ago, will continue to assess needs in more areas to create a sense of belonging and attract a wider group of faculty, staff and students.

“We saw the importance of this committee to support culture and community in our college,” said Baynes, who was the original chair of the committee. “It is important because there are a lot of challenging problems to solve, and everyone should have the opportunity and support to be included in this work.”

While not officially a part of the committee, ECS Dean Kevan Shafizadeh and Behnam Arad, ECS associate dean for students, provided administrative support.

“It just further helps to let students, faculty and staff know that diversity is a priority for us, and it’s aligned with our campus mission so it’s helpful for everybody to literally be on the same page,” Shafizadeh said. “This committee is almost entirely new this year and I was pretty impressed that they were able to mobilize and apply for this recognition to meet a short deadline.”

Several California State University campuses have achieved the relatively new, three-year designation, but Sacramento State is the only one honored for 2024-2026. ASEE has not yet awarded gold level recognition awards. Silver recognition, which has been awarded only to four institutions across its two iterations, can be achieved by “institutions that have made substantive, measurable strides towards their original commitment” outlined in the Bronze level proposal, an ASEE representative said.

Nguyen said the committee would like to achieve higher levels of recognition, but finding ways to help ECS implement its plans is the top priority.

“It’s a great starting point,” said Nguyen, who recently agreed to serve as acting chief diversity officer, overseeing Inclusive Excellence. “This is an important key recognition that aligns with individual department and college priorities as well as our institution. But where we feel it’s important is now it’s a documented commitment to actually being able to deliver.”

Though the designation highlights the college’s progress toward its DEI goals and served as motivation to create a comprehensive action plan, it is also a testament as to why the importance of this type of work cannot be understated, Mohammadpour said.

“This recognition highlights the importance of diversity and inclusion in higher education, emphasizing the value of creating an environment where individuals from diverse backgrounds feel welcomed, supported and empowered to succeed,” she said.

Members of the ECS diversity committee, Inclusive Excellence office and ECS administration pose outside Riverside Hall.

As Sac State's College of Engineering and Computer Science (ECS) works to implement its diversity plans, the ECS DEI committee will continue assessing needs in more areas of the college.

Pictured, left to right: Jennifer Wagelie and Michael Nguyen from Inclusive Excellence; ECS DEI committee members Atefeh Mohammadpour, Sarvenaz Sobhan, Tongren Zhu and Danny Zavala (Anna Baynes not pictured); ECS Associate Dean for Students Behnam Arad and ECS Dean Kevan Shafizadeh. (Sacramento State/Analy Carrillo)

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About Daniel Wilson

Daniel Wilson joined the Sac State communications team in 2022 as a writer and editor. He previously worked at the Sacramento Bee as an audience engagement producer and reporter. He graduated from Sac State with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism in 2018. He plays video games, watches pro wrestling, and loves spending time with his wife and cat.

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